Republican lawmakers filed legislation to ban mail-only elections and tighten oversight for voting by absentee ballot.

House Bill 1169 would permanently ban the State Board of Elections from shifting to all-mail elections and sending ballots to voters who did not request to vote.

The bill, filed Friday, May 22, would tighten oversight and reporting requirements for absentee ballot witnesses, but it would reduce the number of witnesses needed to sign a ballot from two to one, as well as letting voters submit absentee ballots by email, fax, or a new online portal.

The move comes one day after the state Board of Elections’ request for emergency powers was shot down by the state Rules Review Commission. 

The board asked for the authority to delay hearings for candidate challenges and election protest appeals, as well as move some election dates and the deadline for voter registration. The board no longer would need legislative approval to change deadlines for accepting absentee by-mail ballots and deadlines to complete and report the sorting of ballots by precinct. The request specifically excluded the redistricting process.

The board argued it needed the emergency powers to protect voters, poll workers, and public health. It cited the need to quickly prepare absentee ballots. But its request was unanimously rejected as ambiguous, unnecessary, and outside of the board’s statutory authority. 

Republicans lambasted the board after the ruling, accusing them of trying to flip a swing state with a “back-door attempt to rewrite election laws.” 

But H.B. 1169 grants the board some of its requested items.

The state Board of Elections had endorsed reducing or eliminating the required number of witnesses, allowing fax and email ballot submissions, funding the postage for absentee ballots, and moving the deadline to count mail-in ballots after election day. 

“Voters deserve consensus bipartisan efforts to improve our elections systems, and this General Assembly will provide the necessary funding and reforms to effectively administer elections in the 2020 cycle,” N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a news release. 

H.B. 1169 would allocate federal coronavirus relief funds and matching federal funds from the Help America Vote Act to help counties support in-person voting and shoulder the increased costs of absentee ballots. It aims to help recruit precinct officials with temporary flexibility measures. 

“We appreciate that the General Assembly has taken our recommendations to heart and put forward a bill that ensures accessible, safe, and secure elections in 2020,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, in a statement. “This is a positive step forward for North Carolina voters.”